Cadet must repay ROTC
By Irene C. Kuo
Two students whom the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps at MIT disenrolled after they revealed their homosexuality may have to repay the US government the amount they received in tuition support.
Robb L. Bettiker '90 and Harvard College's David Carney were immediately placed on leave of absence from NROTC last fall after they met with their commanding officers, and were discharged on Jan. 31. In February, both received letters from the Secretary of the Navy which asked them to "acknowledge indebtedness to the US Government for advanced educational assistance." Neither one has signed the form.
The demand for recoupment angered Bettiker, who was to have been commissioned in the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion Program this June. "They're taking away a job they promised and making me pay for it," he said. "I am willing to serve. They are the ones kicking me out." Three years of tuition support amounts to $38,612 for Bettiker; for Carney, a fifth-year student, the figure is $51,000.
Bettiker contended that his lawyer said the Navy will have to sue him for the money, and added that the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed interest in the case.
Carney, who is studying at Oxford University this year, could not be reached.
In the second paragraph of "Reimbursement Requirement for Program Incompletion" of the Service Agreement Bettiker signed as a freshman, he agreed that if he failed "to complete the educational requirements . . . or for reasons of misconduct [was] disenrolled," then he would either serve on active duty for the period specified or "reimburse the United States for the educational costs" incurred on his behalf. The form notes that the decision would be made at the discretion of the Secretary of the Navy.
Bettiker said his situation could not be construed as either failure to fulfill academic standards or as misconduct. "As an active member in the battalion, I had the respect of my midshipmen superiors as well as those whom I led," he wrote in a statement addressed to his review board, which submitted a recommendation to his commanding officer.
"My homosexuality had no effect upon my performance as a midshipman, nor will it influence what my caliber as an officer could be," the paper reads.
"Although I do not agree with the current military policy against homosexuals, I would not have knowingly entered the military in a duplicitous fashion," the statement continues. "My statement of homosexuality on November 7, 1989, was an attempt to rectify the difficult situation brought about by this policy," he wrote.
Both the review board and Captain Robert W. Sherer of the US Navy, Bettiker's commanding officer, recommended he not have to repay the tuition. Sherer wrote, "Midshipman Bettiker shows strong aptitude . . . since he is not suitable by reason of homosexuality for enlisted service, I recommend he be disenrolled without service obligation or recoupment. His statement justifies this action."
Sherer also checked the part of the recommendation form which indicated that Bettiker should receive a commission "if physical defects are corrected or defects are not disqualifying for other programs." His recommendations were sent to Navy Military Personnel Command.
Naval superiors overrule
MIT NROTC's decision
Lieutenant David C. Hovda, who sat on the review board, said that its decision to waive recoupment was unusual. "We had our hands tied. Robb could not serve as an enlisted, so the question was whether we could get our money back."
The board was concerned about the precedent the decision might set, but Commander Jay Watkins, the executive officer, assured its members that future cases would be reviewed individually, according to Hovda. "We weren't trying to send a signal with this decision," he said.
Hovda's initial impression when Bettiker revealed he was gay was that he was trying to avoid enlistment. "People have tried to get out of four years of service for stranger reasons," he explained.
"But after the board began [proceedings], I believed Robb was sincere and forthright," Hovda commented.
Watkins added that the MIT unit cannot appeal the decision of the Navy Military Personnel Command to demand repayment.
"[Bettiker] has no Navy channel to which he can appeal," he concluded.
Rules concerning gays were
unclear, Bettiker says
Bettiker said he began to question his sexual orientation in fall 1988, but "at no point" did anyone in NROTC ask him if he was homosexual. "At no point was it made clear in an official way that homosexuality is incompatible with military service," Bettiker claimed. He speculated that a naval science course offered during the spring term of senior year may be the only time the issue is addressed.
"The course, which prepares you to become a junior officer, refers to homosexuality as a `problem,' " he noted. One textbook, Military Law by Charles Shanor and Timothy Terrell, <>
lists ``HOMOSEXUALITY, see Crimes" in its index, he added.
As required in cases of homosexuality, Bettiker saw a psychiatrist, who concluded that he "demonstrated no evidence of overt psychosis, overt affective disorder, or organic brain disease."
Reasons of morale, good order,
and discipline given
The Nuclear Propulsion Program accepted Bettiker in October 1989, one month before he acknowledged his homosexuality to his commanding officer. "At the end of my senior year, I would have had to sign commissioning papers which stated that I was not homosexual," Bettiker said. "The thought that I would have to lie, live that lie during my five years of active duty, and live under the threat that I'd be court-martialed if I were discovered was unacceptable to me."
Bettiker said he believes the policy "denying homosexuals the right to serve their country" is discriminatory. He denied that the "presence of [homosexuals] adversely affects the good order, discipline, and morale," as one textbook used by the US Naval Academy for seniors in NROTC and the Academy claims.
"Before they started letting blacks into the service, they said that there were people who could not handle taking orders from blacks and that this tension would lead to morale problems. They are using the same arguments against gays as they <>
did against blacks," Bettiker reasoned.
He did not see how the presence of homosexuals could interfere with "good order," and added that "men and women currently serve side by side, and there have been few problems."
Watkins, however, pointed out that women and men do not "co-habit" on the ships.
"If we don't put men and women together, how could we put homosexual and [straight] people together?" he asked. "I haven't figured out how many separations would have to be made."
Hearing focuses on ROTC
student in St. Louis
Similar circumstances have propelled a student at Washington University in St. Louis to the center of a congressional hearing led by US Rep. Gerry Studds <>
(D-MA), who is homosexual.
Cadet James M. Holobaugh was suspended from the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps at that school after revealing he was gay and has been asked to repay $25,000.
"We believe that to compel him to repay this money would not only be fundamentally unfair; it would also reflect an appalling mean-spiritedness which has no place in the ROTC," Studds and seven others, including Representatives Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) and Ronald V. Dellums (D-CA), wrote to the commander of the United States Army, Second Region.
"The ROTC has publicly acknowledged that it seeks retroactive recovery of scholarship grants only from recruits who have in some way deceived the service. There is no evidence of such deceit on Mr. Holobaugh's part," the letter continues.
"We do not understand why an ROTC Investigating Board would recommend that Mr. Holobaugh be ordered to repay his scholarship. What if Mr. Holobaugh had been dismissed due to some other disqualifying factor. Would they recommend he be compelled to repay the Army in that instance?"
The provost of Washington University has written the commander, Gateway Battalion, about the "absence of substantial evidence to support the conclusion reached concerning repayment."
"The action against the cadet . . . is consistent with present Army regulations . . . [but] is clearly inconsistent with the non-discriminatory values of this (and I should think virtually all) universities," his statement continues.
Bettiker is currently trying to find a person at MIT who could issue a similar statement.